Taken as a prisoner by the Japanese aged 10 months
We have all seen the news footage of what is happening to children in Syria and the horrors they have to put up with.
But it was not so long ago that British children had to endure similar conditions.
When the Japanese took Singapore in 1941 they also took control of British-held Hong Kong and imprisoned the entire civilian population.
The St Stephen’s College Massacre was just one of several murderous acts carried out by the Japanese.
Brian Arstall, from Langstone, was just 10 months old when, with his mother, he was imprisoned by the Japanese.
The following is a much abridged extract by Brian’s late mother Edith telling of their incarceration by the Japanese, plus some of Brian’s memories.
With the Japanese installed on the Chinese mainland, the inhabitants of the island of Hong Kong were not sure of their position.
Among them was Bernard Arstall, an Admiralty civil servant, along with his wife Edith and little Brian.
Along with about 60 others they were told they were to be transported to Singapore, but when on the boat in Hong Kong harbour war was declared.
The Japanese took no time bombing the island and although troops fought as best they could, on Christmas Day at 4pm the governor announced an unconditional surrender.
Many of the Europeans tried to remain together. On Boxing Day soldiers appeared and started to steal their possessions, such as gold watches and rings.
Husbands had been separated from wives and the last time Edith saw Bernard was through a wire fence. She did not see him again for nearly four years.
Edith and Brian were sent to live in what was a former brothel and after dusk their room was in complete darkness. Such was the deprivation, Edith had to give young Brian stagnant water from a goldfish bowl to drink.
Owing to the brilliant Doctor Welwyn-Clark, who the Japanese had allowed to remain, many lives were saved. He even managed to get ‘better’ quarters for the families and they were transferred to Hong Kong prison located on Stanley peninsular.
On a two-hour, all-standing boat journey the internees arrived at former prison officers’ flats comprising four rooms in which 44 people of both sexes were expected to live. Rations consisted of 12oz rice, a spoonful of greens, boiled lettuce leaves and a slice of bread per day.
Despite the sickness, starvation and missing their families, the internees kept up their spirits. The women even made an embroidered play mat for Brian’s third birthday made of hessian.
After two-and-a-half years Edith received a card from her husband saying he was alive and hoped to see her again soon. ‘Soon’ had been obliterated.
In May 1945 an American fighter flew over the camp. The camp commander said for every soldier killed in an invasion he would kill 10 internees, a threat which somewhat dampened their high spirits.
Then the two atom bombs were dropped on Japan, bringing the war in the Far East to an end. On that day nine national flags that had been hidden since the first day of internment were raised above the camp.
Brian and his mother eventually joined up with Bernard, his son now four years old. Not long after the family sailed for home on the Empress of Australia.